27 March 2015

Living Together

 

 

Together-ness is a practice. At the practice center we have a unique opportunity to live closely with friends from many different countries and backgrounds. Together we form one Sangha body, connected by the practice of mindfulness. With our collective energy of calming and looking deeply, it is possible for us to support each other on the path of transformation. This requires cooperation, skillfulness and acceptance. To live amongst each other, we need to cultivate understanding, communication and a willing heart. Let us take the time to get to know the people around us. We have neglected our neighbors for too long.

Sharing our daily life we can encourage each other with our practice and together build diligence and solidity. Sharing a room with others is an opportunity to develop understanding and compassion for ourself and for those we live with. By being mindful of the people we share a room with, we can identify and appreciate their positive qualities, creating an atmosphere of harmony. We know that when the other person is happy, we are also happy.

We can show our respect to our roommates and the space we share by helping to keep it neat and clean. We try to be considerate of our roommates. For example, we might like to ask first before we open a window or light incense or turn on the light, to make sure it will not bother our roommates. In this way we can create a supportive environment for practicing loving kindness through your words, thoughts and actions.

The greatest gift we can offer our fellow practitioners is our practice of mindfulness. Our smile and our conscious breathing communicate that we are trying our best to find peace within ourselves and we hope to contribute to the peace in the community as well. We should remember to keep communication flowing and our happiness will flow as well.

27 March 2015

Beginning Anew

 

To begin anew is to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, our past actions, speech and thoughts and to create a fresh beginning within ourselves and in our relationships with others. At the practice center we practice Beginning Anew as a community every two weeks and individually as often as we like.

We practice Beginning Anew to clear our mind and keep our practice fresh. When a difficulty arises in our relationships with fellow practitioners and one of us feels resentment or hurt, we know it is time to Begin Anew. The following is a description of the four-part process of Beginning Anew as used in a formal setting. One person speaks at a time and is not interrupted during his or her turn. The other practitioners practice deep listening and following their breath.

1. Flower watering – This is a chance to share our appreciation for the other person. We may mention specific instances that the other person said or did something that we had admired. This is an opportunity to shine light on the other’s strengths and contributions to the sangha and to encourage the growth of his or her positive qualities.

2. Sharing regrets – We may mention any unskillfulness in our actions, speech or thoughts that we have not yet had an opportunity to apologize for.

3. Expressing a hurt – We may share how we felt hurt by an interaction with another practitioner, due to his or her actions, speech or thoughts. (To express a hurt we should first water the other person’s flower by sharing two positive qualities that we have trully observed in him or her. Expressing a hurt is often performed one on one with another practitioner rather than in the group setting. You may ask for a third party that you both trust and respect to be present, if desired.)

4. Sharing a long-term difficulty & asking for support- At times we each have difficulties and pain arise from our past that surface in the present. When we share an issue that we are dealing with we can let the people around us understand us better and offer the support that we really need.

The practice of Beginning Anew helps us develop our kind speech and compassionate listening. Begin Anew is a practice of recognition and appreciation of the positive elements within our Sangha. For instance, we may notice that our roommate is generous in sharing her insights, and another friend is caring towards plants.Recognizing others positive traits allows us to see our own good qualities as well.

Along with these good traits, we each have areas of weakness, such as talking out of our anger or being caught in our misperceptions. When we practice “flower watering” we support the development of good qualities in each other and at the same time we help to weaken the difficulties in the other person. As in a garden, when we “water the flowers” of loving kindness and compassion in each other, we also take energy away from the weeds of anger, jealousy and misperception.

We can practice Beginning Anew everyday by expressing our appreciation for our fellow practitioners and apologizing right away when we do or say something that hurts them. We can politely let others know when we have been hurt as well. The health and happiness of the whole community depends on the harmony, peace and joy that exists between every member in the Sangha.

07 September 2015

Stopping, Calming, Resting, Healing

Exceprt from "The Heart of Buddha's Teachings", Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press

Buddhist meditation has two aspects — shamatha and vipashyana. We tend to stress the importance of vipashyana (" looking deeply") because it can bring us insight and liberate us from suffering and afflictions. But the practice of shamatha (" stopping") is fundamental. If we cannot stop, we cannot have insight.

There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, "Where are you going?" and the first man replies, "I don't know! Ask the horse!" This is also our story. We are riding a horse, we don't know where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. We are always running, and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.

We have to learn the art of stopping — stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, the strong emotions that rule us. When an emotion rushes through us like a storm, we have no peace. We turn on the TV and then we turn it off. We pick up a book and then we put it down. How can we stop this state of agitation? How can we stop our fear, despair, anger, and craving? We can stop by practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order to understand. When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.

But our habit energies are often stronger than our volition. We say and do things we don't want to and afterwards we regret it. We make ourselves and others suffer, and we bring about a lot of damage. We may vow not to do it again, but we do it again. Why? Because our habit energies (vashana) push us.

We need the energy of mindfulness to recognize and be present with our habit energy in order to stop this course of destruction. With mindfulness, we have the capacity to recognize the habit energy every time it manifests. "Hello, my habit energy, I know you are there!" If we just smile to it, it will lose much of its strength. Mindfulness is the energy that allows us to recognize our habit energy and prevent it from dominating us.

Forgetfulness is the opposite. We drink a cup of tea, but we do not know we are drinking a cup of tea. We sit with the person we love, but we don't know that she is there. We walk, but we are not really walking. We are someplace else, thinking about the past or the future. The horse of our habit energy is carrying us along, and we are its captive. We need to stop our horse and reclaim our liberty. We need to shine the light of mindfulness on everything we do, so the darkness of forgetfulness will disappear. The first function of meditation — shamatha — is to stop.

The second function of shamatha is calming. When we have a strong emotion, we know it can be dangerous to act, but we don't have the strength or clarity to refrain. We have to learn the art of breathing in and out, stopping our activities, and calming our emotions. We have to learn to become solid and stable like an oak tree, and not be blown from side to side by the storm. The Buddha taught many techniques to help us calm our body and mind and look deeply at them. They can be summarized in five stages:

(1) Recognition — If we are angry, we say, "I know that anger is in me."

(2) Acceptance — When we are angry, we do not deny it. We accept what is present.

(3) Embracing — We hold our anger in our two arms like a mother holding her crying baby. Our mindfulness embraces our emotion, and this alone can calm our anger and ourselves.

(4) Looking deeply — When we are calm enough, we can look deeply to understand what has brought this anger to be, what is causing our baby's discomfort.

(5) Insight — The fruit of looking deeply is understanding the many causes and conditions, primary and secondary, that have brought about our anger, that are causing our baby to cry. Perhaps our baby is hungry. Perhaps his diaper pin is piercing his skin. Our anger was triggered when our friend spoke to us meanly, and suddenly we remember that he was not at his best today because his father is dying. We reflect like this until we have some insights into what has caused our suffering. With insight, we know what to do and what not to do to change the situation.

After calming, the third function of shamatha is resting. Suppose someone standing alongside a river throws a pebble in the air and it falls down into the river. The pebble allows itself to sink slowly and reach the riverbed without any effort. Once the pebble is at the bottom, it continues to rest, allowing the water to pass by. When we practice sitting meditation, we can allow ourselves to rest just like that pebble. We can allow ourselves to sink naturally into the position of sitting — resting, without effort. We have to learn the art of resting, allowing our body and mind to rest. If we have wounds in our body or our mind, we have to rest so they can heal themselves.

Calming allows us to rest, and resting is a precondition for healing. When animals in the forest get wounded, they find a place to lie down, and they rest completely for many days. They don't think about food or anything else. They just rest, and they get the healing they need. When we humans get sick, we just worry! We look for doctors and medicine, but we don't stop. Even when we go to the beach or the mountains for a vacation, we don't rest, and we come back more tired than before. We have to learn to rest. Lying down is not the only position for resting. During sitting or walking meditation, we can rest very well. Meditation does not have to be hard labor. Just allow your body and mind to rest like an animal in the forest. Don't struggle. There is no need to attain anything. I am writing a book, but I am not struggling. I am resting also. Please read in a joyful, yet restful way. The Buddha said, "My Dharma is the practice of non-practice." 1 Practice in a way that does not tire you out, but gives your body, emotions, and consciousness a chance to rest. Our body and mind have the capacity to heal themselves if we allow them to rest. Stopping, calming, and resting are preconditions for healing. If we cannot stop, the course of our destruction will just continue. The world needs healing. Individuals, communities, and nations need healing.


1 Dvachatvarimshat Khanda Sutra (Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters). Taisho 789.

20 March 2015

Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing

 

Anapanasati Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, 118
Translated by Thich Nhat Hanh

I

            I heard these words of the Buddha one time when he was staying in Savatthi in the Eastern Park, with many well-known and ac­com­plished disci­ples, including Shariputra, Mahamog­gallana, Ma­hakassapa, Mahakaccayana, Mahakotthita, Ma­hakappina, Mahacunda, Anuruddha, Rewata, and Ananda. The se­nior bhik­khus in the community were diligently in­structing bhikkhus who were new to the prac­tice—some instructing ten students, some twenty, some thirty, and some forty; and in this way the bhikkhus new to the practice gradu­ally made great progress.

            That night the moon was full, and the Pavarana Cer­e­mony was held to mark the end of the rainy-season retreat. Lord Buddha, the Awakened One, was sitting in the open air, and his disciples were gathered around him. After look­ing over the as­sembly, he began to speak:

            “O bhikkhus, I am pleased to observe the fruit you have attained in your practice. Yet I know you can make even more progress. What you have not yet attained, you can attain. What you have not yet re­al­ized, you can realize perfectly. [To encourage your efforts,] I will remain here until the next full moon day.”

            When they heard that the Lord Buddha was going to remain in Savatthi for another month, bhikkhus through­out the country began traveling there to study with him. The senior bhik­khus continued teaching the bhikkhus new to the prac­tice even more ardently. Some were instruct­ing ten  bhikkhus, some twenty, some thirty, and some forty. With this help, the newer bhikkhus were able, lit­tle by little, to continue their progress in under­stand­ing.

            When the next full moon day arrived, the Buddha, seated under the open sky, looked over the assem­bly of bhikkhus and began to speak:

            “O bhikkhus, our community is pure and good. At its heart, it is without useless and boastful talk, and therefore it deserves to receive offerings and be considered a field of merit. Such a commu­nity is rare, and any pilgrim who seeks it, no mat­ter how far he must travel, will find it wor­thy.

            “O bhikkhus, there are bhikkhus in this assembly who have realized the fruit of Arhatship, destroyed every root of affliction, laid aside every burden, and attained right understand­ing and emancipation. There are also bhikkhus who have cut off the first five internal formations and realized the fruit of never return­ing to the cycle of birth and death.

            “There are those who have thrown off the first three in­ternal formations and realized the fruit of re­turning once more. They have cut off the roots of greed, ha­tred, and ignorance, and will only need to re­turn to the cycle of birth and death one more time. There are those who have thrown off the three in­ternal formations and attained the fruit of stream enterer, coursing steadily to the Awak­ened State. There are those who practice the Four Establish­ments of Mind­ful­ness. There are those who prac­tice the Four Right Efforts, and those who prac­tice the Four Bases of Success. There are those who practice the Five Faculties, those who prac­tice the Five Powers, those who practice the Seven Factors of Awaken­ing, and those who practice the Noble Eightfold Path. There are those who practice loving kindness, those who practice compassion, those who practice joy, and those who practice equa­nimity. There are those who practice the Nine Contempla­tions, and those who practice the Observation of Imperma­nence. There are also bhik­khus who are already practicing Full Awareness of Breathing.”

II

            “O bhikkhus, the method of being fully aware of breathing, if developed and practiced continuously, will have great rewards and bring great advantages. It will lead to success in practicing the Four Estab­lishments of Mindfulness. If the method of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness is developed and prac­ticed con­tinuously, it will lead to success in the prac­tice of the Seven Factors of Awakening. The Seven Factors of Awakening, if developed and practiced continu­ously, will give rise to under­standing and liberation of the mind.

            “What is the way to develop and practice continu­ously the method of Full Awareness of Breathing so that the practice will be rewarding and offer great benefit?

            “It is like this, bhikkhus: the practitioner goes into the forest or to the foot of a tree, or to any deserted place, sits stably in the lotus position, holding his or her body quite straight, and practices like this: ‘Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.’

            1. ‘Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breath­ing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.’

            2. ‘Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.’

            3. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.’ He or she practices like this.

            4. ‘Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.’ He or she practices like this.

            5. ‘Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breath­ing out, I feel joyful.’ He or she prac­tices like this.

            6. ‘Breathing in, I feel happy. Breath­ing out, I feel happy.’ He or she practices like this.

            7. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.’ He or she prac­tices like this.

            8. ‘Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.’ He or she practices like this.

            9. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.’ He or she prac­tices like this.

            10. ‘Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.’ He or she practices like this.

            11. ‘Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.’ He or she practices like this.

            12. ‘Breathing in, I liberate my mind. Breathing out, I liberate my mind.’ He or she practices like this.

            13. ‘Breathing in, I observe the imperma­nent nature of all dharmas. Breathing out, I observe the impermanent nature of all dhar­mas.’ He or she practices like this.

            14. ‘Breathing in, I observe the disappearance of desire. Breathing out, I observe the disappearance of desire.’ He or she practices like this.

            15. ‘Breathing in, I observe cessa­tion. Breathing out, I observe cessa­tion.’ He or she practices like this.

            16. ‘Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.’ He or she practices like this.

            “The Full Awareness of Breathing, if developed and practiced continuously according to these instruc­tions, will be rewarding and of great benefit.”

III

            “In what way does one develop and continuously practice the Full Awareness of Breathing, in order to succeed in the practice of the Four Establish­ments of Mindfulness?

            “When the practitioner breathes in or out a long or a short breath, aware of his breath or his whole body, or aware that he is making his whole body calm and at peace, he abides peacefully in the observation of the body in the body, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding his state, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the First Establishment of Mind­fulness, the body.

            “When the practitioner breathes in or out aware of joy or happiness, of the mental formations, or to make the mental formations peaceful, he abides peacefully in the observation of the feelings in the feelings, persevering, fully awake, clearly under­standing his state, gone be­yond all at­tachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Aware­ness belong to the Second Establish­ment of Mindfulness, the feelings.

            “When the practitioner breathes in or out with the awareness of the mind, or to make the mind happy, to collect the mind in concentra­tion, or to free and liberate the mind, he abides peacefully in the observation of the mind in the mind, persevering, fully awake, clearly under­standing his state, gone beyond all at­tachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the Third Establishment of Mindfulness, the mind. Without Full Awareness of Breathing, there can be no develop­ment of medi­tative stability and under­standing.

            “When the practitioner breathes in or breathes out and contemplates the essential impermanence or the essential disappearance of desire or cessation or letting go, he abides peace­fully in the observations of the objects of mind in the objects of mind, persevering, fully awake, clearly un­der­standing his state, gone be­yond all at­tachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the Fourth Establishment of Mindfulness, the objects of mind.

            “The practice of Full Awareness of Breathing, if de­veloped and practiced continuously, will lead to per­fect accomplishment of the Four Establish­ments of Mindfulness.”

IV

            “Moreover, if they are developed and continuously practiced, the Four Establishments of Mindfulness will lead to perfect abiding in the Seven Factors of Awak­ening. How is this so?

            “When the practitioner can maintain, without dis­traction, the practice of observing the body in the body, the feelings in the feelings, the mind in the mind, and the objects of mind in the objects of mind, persevering, fully awake, clearly under­standing his state, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life, with unwavering, steadfast, imperturbable meditative stability, he will attain the First Factor of Awakening, namely mindfulness. When this fac­tor is developed, it will come to perfection.

            “When the practitioner can abide in meditative sta­bility without being distracted and can investi­gate every dharma, every object of mind that arises, then the Second Factor of Awakening will be born and de­veloped in him, the factor of inves­tigating dharmas. When this factor is developed, it will come to perfec­tion.

            “When the practitioner can observe and investigate every dharma in a sustained, persevering, and steadfast way, without being distracted, the Third Factor of Awakening will be born and developed in him, the factor of energy. When this factor is de­vel­oped, it will come to perfection.

            “When the practitioner has reached a stable, im­per­turb­able abiding in the stream of practice, the Fourth Factor of Awakening will be born and de­veloped in him, the factor of joy. When this fac­tor is developed, it will come to perfection.

            “When the practitioner can abide undistractedly in the state of joy, he will feel his body and mind light and at peace. At this point the Fifth Factor of Awakening will be born and developed, the factor of ease. When this factor is de­veloped, it will come to perfection.

            “When both body and mind are at ease, the practi­tioner can easily enter into concentra­tion. At this point the Sixth Factor of Awakening will be born and developed in him, the factor of concentra­tion. When this factor is developed, it will come to per­fection.

            “When the practitioner is abiding in concentration with deep calm, he will cease discriminating and comparing. At this point the Seventh Factor of Awaken­ing is released, born, and developed in him, the factor of letting go. When this factor is de­veloped, it will come to perfection.

            “This is how the Four Establishments of Mindful­ness, if developed and practiced continuously, will lead to perfect abiding in the Seven Factors of Awaken­ing.”

V

            “How will the Seven Factors of Awakening, if de­vel­oped and practiced continuously, lead to the per­fect accomplishment of true understanding and com­plete liberation?

            “If the practitioner follows the path of the Seven Factors of Awakening, living in quiet seclusion, ob­serving and contemplating the disappearance of desire, he will develop the capacity of letting go. This will be a result of following the path of the Seven Factors of Awakening and will lead to the perfect accomplishment of true understanding and com­plete liberation.”

VI

            This is what the Lord, the Awakened One, said; and everyone in the assembly felt gratitude and delight at having heard his teachings.